Updated May 15th, 2024 at 21:19 IST

25 Years Since Kargil War, Remembering Captain Saurabh Kalia and his Lost Patrol

India marks the 25th anniversary of the Kargil conflict, honoring the sacrifice of Captain Saurabh Kalia and his 5-man team.

Reported by: Yuvraj Tyagi
Captain Saurabh Kalia | Image:Republic
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Kargil: On this solemn day, India marks the 25th anniversary of the Kargil conflict, a pivotal chapter in the nation's military history. Among the brave souls who etched their names into the annals of valour is Captain Saurabh Kalia, whose sacrifice embodies the unwavering courage and dedication of the Indian Armed Forces.  

It was on May 15, 1999, that Captain Saurabh Kalia, along with his comrades from 4 JAT, embarked on a routine patrol mission to Bajrang post, situated in the treacherous terrain of Kargil. Little did they know that this mission would catapult them into the throes of a fierce battle that would test their mettle and resilience to the core.

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Born on June 29, 1976, Saurabh Kalia was the elder brother of Vaibhav Kalia. Educated at D.A.V Public School, Palampur, and H. P. Agricultural University, Capt Saurabh excelled in academics, earning various scholarships.

Selected for the Indian Military Academy in August 1997, Capt Saurabh was commissioned into 4 Jat of the Jat Regiment on December 12, 1998, through the Combined Defense Services. Known for its brave soldiers, the Jat Regiment became his home. His first assignment took him to J & K's Kargil sector, where he joined his unit in January 1999 at the age of 22.  

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Pakistan’s gross violation of Geneva Convention  

Engaged in a relentless crossfire with Pakistani forces, Captain Kalia and his men found themselves outnumbered and surrounded. Despite their valiant efforts, they were eventually captured alive by Pakistani rangers. What ensued was a harrowing ordeal of captivity and torture that would leave an indelible mark on the annals of military history.  

For 22 agonizing days, Captain Saurabh Kalia and his comrades endured unspeakable torture at the hands of their captors. Their mutilated bodies, bearing the scars of their torment, were returned to India on June 9, 1999, eliciting shock and outrage across the nation. The gruesome nature of their injuries bore witness to the brutality inflicted upon them, violating every norm of humanity and decency.  

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Horrendous Torture

According to the Geneva Convention Part 2 Article 13, prisoners of war are entitled to humane treatment at all times. However, the brutal torture and killing of Captain Saurabh Kalia and his soldiers by Pakistani troops in May 1999 epitomize a heinous breach of international law.

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Captain Kalia and his soldiers endured unimaginable suffering at the hands of their Pakistani captors. Reports reveal that they were subjected to unspeakable acts of violence, including piercing their eardrums with hot iron rods, puncturing their eyes, and mutilating their genitals. The autopsy exposed a litany of atrocities, from burns with cigarette butts to severed limbs and fractured skulls.

The repatriation of Captain Kalia's body to his family on June 9, 1999, marked the beginning of a long and painful journey for his loved ones. His brother, Vaibhav, vividly recounted the harrowing sight of Saurabh's mutilated remains in an interview, igniting a fervent desire for justice. He recalled "Saurabh’s face was the size of my fingers, his eyebrows were the only visible feature, no eyes, no jaw, there were cigarette burns… it was very bad. My parents couldn't have seen him."  

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A Family's Crusade Seeking Justice  

In the wake of this tragedy, Captain Kalia's family embarked on a relentless quest for justice, determined to hold the perpetrators accountable for their heinous crimes. Their tireless efforts, spanning legal battles and diplomatic appeals, stand as a testament to their unwavering commitment to honour the memory of their beloved son and his fallen comrades.

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Dr. N.K. Kalia, father of Capt Saurabh Kalia, has tirelessly pursued justice for his son and his comrades who fell victim to unimaginable brutality at the hands of Pakistani troops. His efforts have spanned national and international platforms, aiming to hold accountable those responsible for the egregious violations of humanitarian law.  

Despite the Supreme Court's intervention through public interest litigation (PIL), challenges persist in addressing the matter through legal channels. The PIL faced opposition, arguing that actions against a foreign country fell outside the purview of public interest litigation. The government's stance on pursuing justice through international courts further complicates the quest for accountability.  

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Despite setbacks, the Kalia family remains resolute in their pursuit of justice. Their unwavering determination reflects not only their quest for closure but also the broader call for accountability and respect for international humanitarian law.

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Published May 15th, 2024 at 21:19 IST